FW: Foreign pool report: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

From: Philip Crowther [mailto:xxx@email.com]
Sent: Friday, February 27, 2015 1:14 PM
To: Allen, Jessica; Barnes, Desiree N.; Velz, Peter
Subject: Foreign pool report: Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf

The leaders sat next to each other in the usual position in front of the fireplace.

POTUS spoke first and introduced President Sirleaf as "a great friend and ally of the US, and Liberia and the US obviously have an extraordinary bond and an extraordinary history."

On the Ebola crisis:

"Last year proved to be an extraordinary difficult challenge. Because of the Ebola crisis we saw the kind of death and disruption of an entire country and an entire region, the sort that we haven't seen very often in modern history."

POTUS expressed condolences to the thousands of victims and their families.

"We have made extraordinary strides in driving back Ebola. Cases are now down 95% from their peak. We just have a handful of cases that come up per week. Our job is not yet done and neighboring countries like Guinea and Sierra Leone are still somewhat behind the progress that has been made in Liberia."

On US participation in fighting Ebola:

"I am very proud of participation of the United States, our men and women in uniform who helped to set up the logistical capacity to absorb additional aid and health workers from around the world, our ability to set up labs and provide technical assistance that allowed Liberian health workers and other international partners to go in and do contact tracing and establish the safe burial practices..."

"All those things have contributed to confidence that we are going to be able to stamp out this disease completely."

"We are very proud of what Liberia has accomplished and we've been very proud to be partners with Liberia in that progress. The meeting today will discuss how we make sure that we're not complacent so long as there is even one case of Ebola remaining in West Africa."

POTUS ended with this:

"We know that the job is not yet done but it shows what can be accomplished when you've got strong democratic leaders on the ground and international partners who are ready to join in and deal with some of the toughest challenges any country has ever faced."

At the beginning of her remarks, Liberian President Sirleaf expressed her gratitude to the US for helping in the fight against Ebola.

"I've come to express on behalf of the Liberian people to you, to the Congress, to all the entities, what we call the frontline responders, to faith-based institutions, to the American people in general for the support we received as we fought this virus. We want to really recognize the extraordinary leadership you provided. We recall when the UN Secretary General Ban ki-Moon called for a global meeting to discuss this disease. You were there and you gave the clarion call for the global community to see the threat this disease represented. As a result of that, the support that came from US entities supplemented by so many others around the world."

"We know that there was fear in this country, and we understood that. Because we feared for ourselves.

"We know that there was pressure here to be able to stop any travelling for people from Liberia. But I want to thank you for standing firm in resisting that pressure, and rallying the American people to see this for what it is."

"We also thank you for the military."

"As a result of that today our military can go out and build those structures, health treatment centres, because of their association and their work with the US military."

"Even though 13 of our 15 political subdivisions have no new cases, we know we're not there yet. We're not there because two countries haven't reached the level of success and progress that we have."

"The one critical element in all of this was our own people, particularly our community people. They took charge. They said "we're not going to die"."

To end, another message of thanks:

"Our message is to come and say to the American people, to the US government that supported your programme in a bipartisan way. Your support has worked. We see it as a success story."

(All quotes to be checked against the official transcript.)

The two leaders spoke to reporters for 12 minutes.

President Sirleaf was wearing largely dark blue formal African attire. POTUS's attire pales in comparison, though the choice of colors matched hers.

The remarks were followed by a handshake and a message to the pool to "stay warm".

Also spotted in the Oval Office on the US side:

Secretary of State John Kerry

National Security Advisor Susan Rice

Gayle Smith, Special Assistant to the President, and all-round Africa expert

US Ambassador to Monrovia Deborah Malac

On the Liberian side:

Finance and Development Planning Minister Amara Konneh

Information, Culture, and Tourism Minister Lewis Brown

President Sirleaf's legal advisor Seward Cooper

Liberian Ambassador to Washington Jeremiah C. Sulunteh

Some background:

President Sirleaf of Liberia has been in Washington since Tuesday. As part of her visit, she met acting USAID administrator Al Lenhardt on Wednesday. On Thursday, she spoke at an event hosted by Senator Chris Coons and the US Institute of Peace in the Hart Senate Office Building.

This morning, she met Secretary of State John Kerry, and later today Defense Secretary Ashton Carter hosts an honor cordon for her at the Pentagon. She leaves on Sunday for Brussels.

This is her first visit to Washington since the US-Africa summit in August 2014, an event she was forced to forego due to the Ebola outbreak in her country.

The last meeting between Obama and Sirleaf in the Oval Office was 27 May 2010.

Philip Crowther

France 24 White House / Washington correspondent

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